- Posts: 69
- Joined: Tue Oct 25, 2005 5:39 pm
- First Name: Gilbert (Gil)
- Last Name: Raynor
- Crew?: Blue
- Which Years on Board: 1968-70
- Rate: MM2 SS
Report: Lax Leadership Led To Hormuz Collision
By Andrew Scutro, Navy Times, November 16, 2009
The navigator was listening to his iPod during a critical evolution.
Watchstanders were known to sleep on the job.
Stereo speakers were rigged for music in the radio room.
An informal atmosphere – along with crew complacency, a “weak” command and inferior submariner skills – are named as contributors to the March 20 collision between the attack submarine Hartford and the amphibious transport dock New Orleans in the Strait of Hormuz.
And according to a heavily redacted 102-page Judge Advocate General Manual investigation obtained by Navy Times through a Freedom of Information Act request, what turned into a major embarrassment for the submarine fleet was entirely “avoidable.”
The collision happened just after midnight in calm seas as Hartford was at periscope depth and southbound, crossing the strait bound for a port call in Jebel Ali, United Arab Emirates.
New Orleans – 70 days into its first deployment – was westbound, exiting the surface transit lane of the strait. The state-of-the-art gator was entering the Persian Gulf as part of the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group.
The ships crashed as they intersected. Fifteen sailors on Hartford were hurt, none more seriously than during a typical swim call, according to the boat’s corpsman. No one on New Orleans was injured.
The crew of New Orleans “bears no fault” for the accident, the report said.
When it was all over, Hartford would take one month to limp home to Groton, Conn., on the surface, its captain and chief of the boat both fired. Today, Hartford is still undergoing extensive repairs to its bent sail, internal components and damaged bow planes at General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton. Industry experts estimate the bill to be more than $100 million.
New Orleans suffered a 16-by-18-foot gash in its hull. It would spend 53 days in Bahrain undergoing $2.3 million in repairs while stranding embarked leathernecks from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Problems At The Top
Blame for the whole debacle lands squarely with a command team on Hartford that tolerated an “informal” atmosphere on the ship, the report said.
Cmdr. Ryan Brookhart was detached for cause and chief of the boat Master Chief Electronics Technician (SS) Stefan Prevot was reassigned to Submarine Squadron 4 in the aftermath. The navigator, executive officer and weapons officer underwent nonjudicial punishment, as did 10 sailors. Also, administrative action was taken against three direct support element members assigned to Naval Information Operations Command in Georgia as well as a fleet intelligence specialist based near Washington, D.C. The report did not explain what role they played.
The report’s final endorsement, by Fleet Forces Command head Adm. John Harvey, called the accident the result of “nearly 30 tactical and watchstander errors” in the hour before the collision. He also noted that the command failed to hold subordinates accountable, “and a high price has been paid for that shortcoming.”
Harvey also directed the submarine force to review all collisions back to the attack sub Greeneville’s fatal crash into a Japanese fisheries training boat in 2001 near Hawaii.
Vice Adm. Jay Donnelly, Submarine Force commander, spoke candidly about the mishap Oct. 28 during the annual Naval Submarine League meeting in McLean, Va.
He said the crew had just finished an intense operational phase of its deployment and “everybody let down their guard” for what was actually one of the most challenging phases, crossing the strait at periscope depth.
He also noted that more or better technology would not have helped the situation, as the sub crew knew New Orleans and another ship were nearby
A Bigger Issue
The collision illustrates the force’s larger problem with contact management. An internal message sent by Submarine Force Pacific commander Rear Adm. Douglas McAneny less than a month after the collision urged commanders and commodores to boost crews’ ability to track surface contacts.
“Over several months” prior to the incident, hundreds of watchstanders were tested in their ability to understand how to analyze the movement of surface contacts. The exams yielded results of 10 percent to 15 percent passing grades among enlisted watchstanders and 60 percent of officers.
“Given the attention I have personally placed on submerged contact management in briefing the waterfronts, this is unacceptable,” McAneny wrote in the message obtained by Navy Times.
Not Up To Standard
At the time of the collision, the sub was southbound at periscope depth, periodically raising and lowering its periscope.
When the ships collided, the New Orleans crew felt “a shudder and rumbling.” That bridge team slowed to 3 knots and launched a small boat to look for damage. The big amphib had flooding in ballast and fuel tanks and listed “1.5 degrees to starboard.”
On Hartford, the crash caused the door of the control room to be jammed shut by a battle lantern, a fuel leak in the machinery room, and “light smoke” in that space and in the torpedo room.
The bow planes were not working and the periscopes would not rise. The towed array was retrieved and baffles cleared before conducting an emergency blow and surfacing 3,000 yards from New Orleans. It took the crew nearly four hours using “wedges and a portable hydraulic jack” to pry open hatches up to the bridge.
Blame is on Brookhart for failing to plan the “strait transit and crossing evolution,” for failing to communicate the plan, and leaving watchstanders without “the heightened risk that should have been foremost on everyone’s mind.”
But the watchstanders were not up to standard to begin with, according to the report.
Control room understanding of contact management was found to be poor enough that crewmembers “routinely failed to critically evaluate the validity” of computer-generated contact information with “raw sensor data.”
But as McAneny urged commanders to get their crews up to standard, the causes of the collision point to leadership. Brookhart, the executive officer and COB were together tagged with setting a command climate that lacked a “questioning attitude” that is expected in the submarine force and for fostering a “general level of complacency.”
It was felt by even the youngest sailors. Helmsmen – always the newest crew – told investigators they often would “slouch in their seats with one hand on the controls,” and would “take off their shoes while driving the ship.”
Sailors also reported a lax attitude in the sonar division about taking breaks.
On the night of the crash, sonar operators chatted “for the majority of the time [in the hour before] the collision.” An officer of the deck did not look through the periscope prior to the collision after taking over contact management duties.
The navigator, off-watch, was found to have been taking an engineering exam in the wardroom “while listening to his iPod,” despite the hazardous evolution underway.
Brookhart was never in the control room during any time crossing the strait, the investigators found.
Prior to the accident, speakers had been installed in the ultra-sensitive radio room “that allowed music to be played from an iPod while on watch. This was hidden from the Chain of Command.”
Perhaps most shocking was this revelation: “Many crewmembers stated there were numerous ‘known’ sleepers [five specific names were reiterated by the majority of those crewmembers interviewed]. Those personnel would routinely fall asleep [‘nod off’] on watch, and no disciplinary action was taken.”
Two of the known sleepers were on watch during the collision, the report states.
The investigating team does make a point at the end of the report to say most of the sailors on the ship were of an “absolutely superb caliber” now “hungering for effective leadership” and “eager to restore their ship’s standing.”
- Posts: 45
- Joined: Sat Nov 05, 2005 3:55 pm
- First Name: John
- Last Name: Horner
- Crew?: Gold
- Which Years on Board: 1970-74
- Special Crew?: Neither
- Rate: STS2(ss)
There is a picture of me lounging in the chair of one of the sonar stacks. I think it's in the "Onboard" album. It's titled "layed-back sonar shack". I can assure you that, that photo was taken by one of the radiomen on the surface just after tying up to the tender. It would never have happened at sea. Hope that's reassurring!
Sonar gang '70-'74 Gold